John Kasich, Tort Reform, and Hot Coffee

In 1992, Stella Liebeck suffered significant burn injuries after spilling McDonald’s coffee on herself. She sued, and eventually received compensation.

Much has been written about the case; a 2011 movie, “Hot Coffee“, focused on the extent to which the public’s largely unfavorable perception of the case and Ms. Liebeck was based on a significant and pervasive misunderstanding of its McFacts. (It turns out that it’s nearly impossible to develop an informed opinion about a lawsuit/litigation based only on sound bites and headlines.)

But this is relatively old news; in Internet terms it’s prehistoric. So why am I writing about it now?

Answer: A man named John Kasich is running for president. Included among the many reports about the case is this video. In it, at about the nine-minute mark, Mr. (then Representative) Kasich offers his “thoughts” on the case:

Lady goes to a fast food restaurant, puts coffee in her lap, burns her legs and sues and gets a big settlement – that, in and of itself, is enough to tell you why we need tort reform.

Uh, no.

“Tort reform” is the ostensibly benign label given to the movement – driven by business interests (including the insurance industry) – that aims to reduce injury victims’ access to the civil justice system and/or limit recoverable damages in tort (personal injury) lawsuits.

As the facts of the case clearly demonstrate, the Liebeck case is not “in and of itself … enough” to demonstrate the “need” for tort “reform”. Mr. Kasich’s knee-jerk, premature, ill-informed remarks about the Liebeck case are at least one reason why his fitness for the presidency should be seriously and carefully scrutinized.

(More on this here.)

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